J Med Internet Res: Social Media and HIV – A Systematic Review of Uses of Social Media in HIV Communication


Background: Social media, including mobile technologies and social networking sites, are being used increasingly as part of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention and treatment efforts. As an important avenue for communication about HIV, social media use may continue to increase and become more widespread.

Objective: The objective of this paper is to present a comprehensive systematic review of the current published literature on the design, users, benefits, and limitations of using social media to communicate about HIV prevention and treatment.

Methods: This review paper used a systematic approach to survey all literature published before February 2014 using 7 electronic databases and a manual search. The inclusion criteria were (1) primary focus on communication/interaction about HIV/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), (2) discusses the use of social media to facilitate communication, (3) communication on the social media platform is between individuals or a group of individuals rather than the use of preset, automated responses from a platform, (4) published before February 19, 2014, and (5) all study designs.

Results: The search identified 35 original research studies. Thirty studies had low or unclear risk of at least one of the bias items in the methodological quality assessment. Among the 8 social media platform types described, short message service text messaging was most commonly used. Platforms served multiple purposes including disseminating health information, conducting health promotion, sharing experiences, providing social support, and promoting medication adherence. Social media users were diverse in geographic location and race/ethnicity; studies commonly reported users aged 18-40 years and users with lower income. Although most studies did not specify whether use was anonymous, studies reported the importance of anonymity in social media use to communicate about HIV largely due to the stigma associated with HIV. The ability to share and receive information about HIV was the most commonly reported benefit of social media use and the most common challenges were related to technology. Measures of frequency of use, satisfaction, and effects of use varied across studies.

Conclusions: Using social media to bridge communication among a diverse range of users, in various geographic and social contexts, may be leveraged through pre-existing platforms and with attention to the roles of anonymity and confidentiality in communication about HIV prevention and treatment. More robust research is needed to determine the effects of social media use on various health and social outcomes related to HIV.

See citation and abstract below of a new paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Full text: http://www.jmir.org/2015/11/e248/

‘Our review shows that social media is a promising approach to engage individuals in a dynamic discourse about HIV prevention and treatment, and may allow diverse groups to collaborate on strategies to address the epidemic’. Importantly, the authors concede (in the full text) that ‘our review was not designed to assess the quality of the information being shared on social media’.

CITATION: Social Media and HIV: A Systematic Review of Uses of Social Media in HIV Communication

Taggart T, Grewe ME, Conserve DF, Gliwa C, Roman Isler M

J Med Internet Res 2015;17(11):e248

DOI: 10.2196/jmir.4387

Email: ttaggart [at] email.unc.edu

Best wishes, Neil

Let’s build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare knowledge – Join HIFA: www.hifa2015.org  

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